2010 Turnout Gaps: Our Marching Orders for the 2012 Elections

Yes, I am haunted by voter turnout statistics.

And you should be, too.

Because this report from Nonprofit Vote has some fairly alarming data about what happened to voter turnout in 2010, particularly compared to 2008.

All of which matters tremendously for 2012.

And these figures should serve as a challenge for nonprofit organizations, because we are uniquely positioned to move the needle on these particular populations’ voter turnout.

And so we must.

Some of the “highlights”:

  • Only 24% of youth (ages 18-29) turned out in 2010, a sharp drop from 51.1% in 2008. When so much is at stake for future generations–the state of the economy, the future of entitlements, the availability of higher education, the likelihood of future foreign conflicts–allowing these decisions to be made, essentially, with only marginal input from those most affected is unconscionable.
  • There was a 20 point turnout gap between members of lower income and higher income households. Nonprofit organizations have strong relationships in many low-income communities, and significant presence as institutions shaping their lives. If we want to be a true, vibrant democracy, we’ve got to do better than this.
  • Only 35% of those with a high school diploma or less turned out in 2010, compared to 61% of those with a college degree or more. We will end up with policies that only work for those highly-educated, if only those who have been so advantaged are writing the rules.
  • There was a 34 point turnout gap between individuals who had resided in their home for less than a year (28%) and those who had resided in their home for at least 5 years (62%). Because this is often a proxy for both age and income, and because mobility is associated with some technical difficulties in actually registering and voting, we should make it a priority to reach out to those who are new in our communities, and to pursuing public policies (same-day registration, anyone?) that remove barriers to voter participation for these more mobile citizens.

There’s nothing magic, or even all that shocking, about these statistics; we know that those who are marginally connected to our political life 364 days a year–separated from the policies’ development, although certainly not from their impact–do not magically connect on Election Day.

But these statistics should be alarming to us, both because of what they represent about the failings of our representational system, and because nonprofit organizations need our constituents, including those who fall into the categories above, to participate in the electoral system if we hope that it will ultimately reflect our concerns.

So, I see these data as a to-do list. We know who we need to target for voter registration and Get-Out-the-Vote work, and we even have some benchmarks that can guide our definition of what “success” looks like.

Let’s produce some different figures in 2012.

And close the gaps.

4 responses to “2010 Turnout Gaps: Our Marching Orders for the 2012 Elections

  1. Those of us who serve families could easily have voter registration information with us to give to families. I think that, very often, workers stay far away from encouraging voting because they don’t want to be seen as trying to get a family to vote for one candidate over another. Perhaps some of the education should be to our front line staff about how they can give information about how to register. Perhaps armed with statistics about how most of the families we serve may not be voting, they will feel more empowered to encourage them to register.

    As for the youth vote drop from 2008 to 2010, I do think that most young voters look at the presidential election as the important one (the one that is the most talked about) and they tend to not care as much during “off year” elections. Here’s hoping they show up in droves this November!

    Thanks for the stats!

    • Yes, Audra, absolutely! I would be more than happy to help you think through what your front line staff need in terms of information, training, and materials to help them integrate voter registration, voter education, and Get-Out-the-Vote activities into their work with clients. With the base of relationships they have, they are the best positioned to help people feel truly empowered, and that their votes do matter. Let me know how I can help!

  2. I’m going to talk with my leadership some about this. We were talking today about how we can’t post political signs, etc at work (clearly), but I think we need to be clear that encouraging voter registration is not a bad thing and not us asking someone to vote for a particular candidate. But if our families aren’t registered, their voice can’t be heard. I think we need to start with our agency having the discussion about how we can arm our front line staff to have the information and share with families how they can register to vote.
    Are there packets of info we can find somewhere that are pre-made?

    • Yes! Nonprofit Vote has a toolkit for 501(c)3 voter work on their website. Absolutely you can and should be registering people, taking forms with you to home visits and asking people to allow you to register them. It’s not about trying to influence the outcome of the election for a particular candidate, but about changing the course of history by getting more voices included in the process! Let me know if you don’t find what you need from the toolkit, and I’ll help you pull the right information together–I’d be happy to do a conference call with your Board, too, if that would help!

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